Closing Your Church is Neither Loving Your Neighbhour Nor is it a Good Witness to the Community

First, to dispense with the second point in the title. Yes, Christian leaders are to be well thought of by outsiders (1 Timothy 3:7). By extension, this command applies to all Christians at all times (1 Timothy 2:2, Titus 3:2, Romans 12:8).

This command does not, however, cover the message of the Gospel, which will be despised by outsiders, along with the man delivering it. If the Gospel is preached, God’s Law must be preached first. The penalty for sin must be stated, and the righteous wrath of God, poured out on sinners, must be fully explained. The love of God in sending Christ as a propitiation for our sins must be stated fully. Romans 3:19-26. Men will hate this, and count it foolishness (1 Corinthians 1:18). If leaders wish to always be well thought of by outsiders, they would need to be in full accordance with the powers, principalities, and authorities who are against Christ.

What needs to be said is that being thought well of by outsiders is to not be a hypocrite. Romans 2:24, quoting Isaiah 53:5, says, “For, as it is written, “‘the name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you'” (English Standard Version). When Christians condemn sin, yet sin in the same manner, they act hypocritically and will spoil their witness to the watching world. But the world is not who we must please—it is Christ, and we must honour His word. When we obey Christ, we will bring scorn and dishonour upon ourselves. This is the history of the church in Acts and the experience of Christians at all times and in all places.

When we follow government edicts, made over the church where the government has no rightful rule, we declare to the community that the civil government is lord of the Church, not Christ. The civil government has declared Christ’s church gathered to be nonessential, and thousands of churches agreed! That was our witness! Churches that have done so must repent, and so witness to the community that they have failed and resolve not to fail again.

It is also said that closing churches in a time of pandemic is “loving your neighbour.” This is curious for a people who believe that the Lord’s Supper, remembered weekly, is of utmost importance. This is odd for a people who believe that without the Gospel, men and women must enter Hell. This is strange thinking for a Christians who have decried the cheapening of faith by televangelists, only to become televangelists en masse in one week!

By misreading Romans 13:1-7 and submitting to the lockdowns we have taken up the cause, (in the name of neighbourly love), of those who turned long-term care centres into death camps; sacrificed the spiritual well-being of children under the misguided attempt to keep vulnerable people safe; ruined careers and hopes; left many elderly to die alone and heartbroken. There is much more. But we did that, Christians, when we out of fear of overwrought obedience, denied Christ’s lordship over His church. If we had affirmed Christ’s Lordship, Canada would be a different place today.

This is pressing upon me because we are about to go around again, this time over the issue of vaccines. I have no interest in discussing the efficacy of vaccines at this time. But the medical ethics of a civil government demanding a medical procedure on an unwilling populace is at the same depth of depravity as Nazi Germany or modern China.

If a pastor, elder, or congregation will demand proof of a medical procedure, such as a vaccine, to worship Christ in His peoples’ gathering, in person, they  must be condemned as anti-Christian. In such cases, safety and compliance have become gods. Christians must refuse such idolatry.

Contrary to Paul Carter of the Gospel Coalition Canada , there is a command in Hebrews 10:24-25: 24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near (ESV). Carter does not deal with verse 24. The subjunctive (let us consider) can serve as an imperative (a command). “Let us consider” is the main verb, not “to meet together” in verse 25. Verse 24 is the command, and what no one seems to ask is, “How can verse 24 be obeyed if the church is not meeting?” It cannot. Failing to meet together is a failure to “stir up one another to love and good works.”

But we have Zoom! Facebook! YouTube. Yes we do. But one of the foundations of Biblical interpretation is that the interpreter must understand a Biblical text as it was understood by the first hearers! How could the readers of Hebrews understand these verses in any way except as meeting together face-to-face? They had no way to encourage, teach, exhort, or discipline one another unless they could see and hear each other.

The first readers did not have Zoom, or any other technology. God meant for the Christian life to be lived in-person, in a real time and a real place.

Meeting together is a necessary condition to obey verse 24 and failing to meet together is to disobey the command. This is why neglecting to meet together is such a serious problem, and can lead to the consequences in verse 26!

This current wave of oppression and outright persecution is going to continue as long as the Lord permits. He is looking for His people to call upon His name and repent from their fear and their idolatry of safety and compliance to the state.

Limits to Authority

Image may contain: 1 person, suitImagine, if you will . . . echoing Rod Sterling and the Twilight Zone
 
Imagine, if you will, a government that knows the limits of its authority.
 
As I have written before, there are differing approaches among Christians to the lockdowns in Ontario. Some will argue that we must obey the government in this, and others say we must disobey. Paul Carter of the Gospel Coalition did an excellent job of exegeting Hebrews 10:24-25 on this, and although I am not convinced, he made a cogent argument.
 
I think much of the discussion has, however, missed the point, and Carter is answering a question that I, for one, am not asking. For many of us, it is not a matter of civil disobedience (although that will be the perception) as it is the limits of governmental authority in the first place. We may see several spheres of authority in Scripture: family, church, and civil government. Family was ordained in the garden. Church, broadly worship, was immediately after as seen in how God accepted Abel’s sacrifice and not Cain’s. As Bruce Waltke said, “Cain failed in the field because he failed at the altar.”
 
Civil government immediately follows as the population increases.
There is overlap and cooperation between these spheres, but all three are under the Lordship of Christ. In general, the family is responsible for education, health and well-being, and economics. The church is responsible for the ministry of the Word and the sacraments, baptism and the Lord’s Supper. The state, or civil government is responsible for the protection of the nation from outside forces, and to administer law and justice (and that justice is to be defined by the law of God, not created by fiat).
 
It isn’t hard to see how the modern state has taken over most roles of the family and church, so that each of these functions are now under the state’s authority. The state has grown to a point that family and church can be deemed, “nonessential” in Covid-19 pandemic terms.
 
The reason this has happened is that as a people we have rejected the idea that the spheres are placed as they are by God and are inviolable by the others spheres of authority. The family is a sovereign unto itself within the Kingdom of God as is the church.
 
The church does not have authority over the family nor does the family over the church.
 
Neither the family nor the church have authority over the state, and the state does not have authority over the church and family. The Christian is to submit to the state (Romans 13:1-2) and at the same time “obey God rather than men” (Acts 5:29). The behaviour of Christians in the New Testament and in the early church indicate that they did not believe the submission to the state was absolute. It was the state’s task to administer justice, not to set the theology of the church. When Caesar demanded that all people, not just Christians, burn incense as worship to him and declare, “Caesar is Lord,” the Christians chose death instead.
 
All of this, of course, can only work where there is an acknowledgement of Christ’s Lordship over all of life, and that there is no neutral ground that operates freely apart from this Lordship.
 
To continue, I’d like to make this perfectly clear:
 
1. Jesus is not a future king, but king now. He is king of Canada, king of the United States, and king of the entire planet, solar system, galaxy and universe. There is no person, place or thing that is outside of His authority right now, and His law prevails. His will shall be done “on earth as it is in heaven.”
 
2. For many years, Christians have claimed that the King is coming, but the Gospel says He is here and reigns now. This places our civil governments as rebels against the King, insofar as the decrees, laws, mandates, and bylaws violate His law.
 
3. If Christ is not acknowledged, the state has no natural cause or reason to limit itself—it can only grow in authority. The Western state has, in its claim to secularity, become a law unto itself—autonomous and answerable only to itself.
 
4. As the state has grown and self-asserting illegitimate authority, it will destroy both family and church, as it seizes the God-given authority of both.
 
5. But because the state is thoroughly human, it can only become a tyranny, whether that tyranny is shown in a man, a committee, or a mob of democracy. Assuming itself autonomous, there is no higher authority to which it must answer.
 
When it comes to the decisions of the Ontario government to demand the closures of churches, we must learn to ask, “by what authority?” It cannot be the authority of the state if our worldview is a Christian one. If we concede the state has the authority because it asserts that it does, then it is only a matter of time that churches are closed forever as “nonessential” and all functions of the family are replaced by the state.
 
It is a stark choice: either the state has the authority it is claiming today or it does not. I believe it does not, but the belief that it does runs deep and is firmly entrenched in our society, even in churches.
 
The encroachment of the state into church and family was slow at first, until the tipping point was reached. It was reached quite awhile ago, but it is unmistakable now.,
 
The question is not whether we should obey the state and stay home. It is whether the state has the authority to demand it.
Imagine, if you will . . .

Standards not Permitted

A few days ago I posted this on Facebook:

Given the movements to outlaw conversion therapy, and coupled with that the revelations of child molestation within the Roman Catholic church, I predict the next popular outcry will be to outlaw any marriage or celibacy demands within churches, seminaries, or denominations.

As the demand for celibacy (wrongly, I think) blamed for child molestation within the RC church, the restriction itself, as all restrictions, will be forbidden.

Just as the Supreme Court of Canada ruled out a Christian law school’s accreditation based upon its code of ethics, codes of ethics themselves will be outlawed.

Just a prediction.

But if religion is to be driven completely into the private sphere, any outward sign of compliance (marriage or celibacy) would have to be forbidden.

Since writing, I’ve become aware of the extent of the cover-up within the Roman Catholic church, a cover-up that seems to extend as high as the Pope himself. A nuncio, or papal ambassador wrote an eleven-page letter exposing the cover-up. It can be found here.

I will now double-down on my prediction that religious organisations, including churches, will face intense pressure to refrain from making any moral demands of its members and officers. This has been the case in Canada through restrictions on educational institutions, charities that are not churches, but Christian, and has been demonstrated by the forced support of abortion and LGBTQ rights in order to receive Canada Summer Jobs funding.

As statism expands its reach into private life, it should come as no surprise that control over all ethics will be understood as the state’s, not the individual’s or his church’s, responsibility.

There is not, perhaps, a course of action that can be taken politically given the kind of power working against Christians at this time, but it is essential to remember that the battle is, and was at the outset, spiritual (Ephesians 6:12). There are options for the Christian. Taking up the full armor of God (Ephesians 6:13-18) is the start. Being prepared to “obey God rather than men” is its strategy (Acts 5:29).